E&T news weekly #104 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the past week

July 22, 2016

Friday 22 July 2016

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
HMS Ambush submarine collides with merchant ship
MH370 search team may have looked in the wrong location for two years

Two stories of derring do on the high seas – or rather under the high seas, given the subject matter – each with a blackly comic edge to them. The first concerns HMS Ambush, the UK’s most advanced attack submarine (apparently), which was involved in what the Ministry of Defence referred to vaguely as a “glancing collision” with a merchant ship in the Mediterranean. This isn’t the first time such an awkward maritime encounter has beset what is supposed to be one of the stealthiest submarines on the planet and it is something of a gift for comedy writers everywhere. Expect future Johnny English films to feature a submarine that keeps bumping in to fishing boats. The second story is the latest update from the seemingly endless search for the wreckage of Flight MH370. After two years, thousands of man hours and millions of Australian dollars spent on the hunt, the search teams are now wondering whether the plane actually glided down onto the water and then sank, rather than spiralling and crashing in to the sea. If it did glide, it’s likely that the searchers have been looking in entirely the wrong place all this time.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
HMS Ambush submarine collides with merchant ship

When a Royal Navy submarine limps into port with an embarrassing dent in its bodywork it’s bound to attract attention. Our report shows that HMS Ambush has an unlucky history, but this event is pretty unlucky for whoever was in command at the time too, as submariners who can’t steer are likely to find their careers taking a sharp change of direction.

Digitalising every fish for online aquatic fauna database

Professor Adam Summers has come up with a novel way to make his mark in scientific history. He and his team are trying to create a digital catalogue of all 25,000 known species of fish – in 3D. That involves getting hold of a sample of every single one and taking multiple images with a small CT scanner to build up a picture of the skeleton that is available online. It sounds like a real labour of love, and one that will be a great boon to future ichthyologists.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Chip and pin compromised by hackers ‘within a year’

So the story here is that a former White House chief and US cyber security expert has expressed concerns that chip and pin payment technology could be compromised by hackers within a year. As we know, the United States has never really embraced the chip and pin system like we have here in the UK. They still have the ‘sign for’ system, which in itself poses security threats. Every new piece of technology comes with security warnings (hence why we still vote using a good old fashioned method of using a pencil/pen and not the internet) so the US will have to think this through. Get the ethical hackers onto it! Once the US has fully established chip and pin, what will be the latest method everyone else is doing? We’ve already embraced Apple/Android Pay methods and contactless payments. I suppose the US has an advantage in that it can learn from the mistakes that have been made by other ‘more advanced’ countries.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
HMS Ambush submarine collides with merchant ship

Now, this is interesting. The other day I was explaining to my partner how a Trident-carrying submarine in high seas would find out if Britain is under nuclear attack. If BBC Radio 4’s Today programme suddenly goes off air between 6 am and 9 am on a week day or doesn’t go on air at all, the sub’s captain would know that Britain had been attacked and it was time to retaliate, ie launch a Trident or two back at the attacker. I grasped that valuable bit of knowledge while working as a researcher/scriptwriter for the BBC TV quiz show QI ten years ago. Now I can see that the reason for the start of a nuclear conflict can be much more mundane and can result from a collision of a submarine with a cargo ship, a cruise liner, a fishing boat or another submarine! Could an accidental Trident launch be triggered by a massive bump? I hope it cannot. But you never know: possibly, it can. I also wonder whether all those frequent submarine collisions with other floating objects are sufficient reason to deprive the careless submarine drivers (or captains, or pilots, whatever they’re called) of their driving licences (if any) – a measure that would have certainly been taken against their equally careless counterparts on dry land, even if the latter are not in any danger of accidentally starting a nuclear conflict. Another reason not to replace Trident? Jeremy Corbyn would like that, I’m sure.

Digitalising every fish for online aquatic fauna database

A commendable attempt, no doubt, but I wonder if the respected American professor will be able to digitalise the Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) which is officially the world’s rarest and can only be found in one hard-to-access and rather sinister-sounding spot: the Amargosa Desert ecosystem, in the Amargosa Valley of southwestern Nevada, USA, east of Death Valley and the Funeral Mountains (I’m not joking!). I hope the brave zoologist won’t be put off by all those moribund toponyms and want to send my very best fishes to him.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Online restaurant menus targeted by cyber hackers

There have been some fishy goings on at the ‘watering hole’. Cyber criminals are using ‘watering hole’ hacking to plant bugs on popular websites of employees, so they can infect a corporation using things like online menus. For example, if it was a late night at the office, and there was a Domino’s down the road, everyone chips in for some pizza. So you look at the menu on the web to see what the list of grub looks like. Alas, some little critter of a cyber bug gets in and nestles into your corporation’s database. Then everything goes wrong and the company is at risk, all because you wanted that slice of pizza. Was it worth it? Depends on the toppings. Anyway, if I was bored or intelligent enough to plant bugs in online menus, I would do some other stuff too, such as replacing names, or putting naughty words in the Sides part of the menu. “Frog and deer poo pizza? That sounds…exotic.” “Hmm, what side do I want? Says here they have…your mum?!” I’d have quite a time confusing all those hungry people.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
40 years of Ford Fiesta celebrated with Dagenham to Brighton run

Everyone’s favourite little runaround turned 40 last weekend, and to celebrate 40 different models drove in convoy from Ford’s Engine Plant in Dagenham, Essex, to Brighton Race Course. Labelled 1-40, the timeline of cars, from across four decades of continuous production, were joined by over 200 other Fords, for a summer festival in celebration of all Ford motors. That’s right, it was a Ford fiesta! Brilliant. I’m delighted by this news, not only because it’s a brilliant play on words, but because I love Ford Fiestas and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I know they’re not considered the most exciting cars in the world, and a lot of people think that they pale in comparison to their cooler younger brother, the Focus, but theres nothing I’d like more than a Ford Fiesta to call my very own. I’m over the moon that my favourite car has made it to 40 without being forced out of production – I still lament the loss of the Anglia and the Escort – and hoping for many more Fiesta-filled years to come. Here’s to you Fiesta, happy birthday, you handsome, handsome devil.

Tarpaulin mishap causes two-year delay to Japan’s military satellite

Tarpaulins are pretty useful things – you can use them as rather uncomfortable picnic blankets, shelters for building equipment, makeshift tents and shelters, maternity centres for earwigs and other mini horrors, and a whole host of other strange outside activities – but it turns out that they don’t mix very well with super-expensive Japanese military satellites. In fact, they cause millions of dollars worth of damage, and huge delays to important military communications developments, and potentially hinder the reinforcement of Japanese defences in the South China Sea. This is the news that someone in Japan is going to be in a lot of trouble, after an incorrectly placed blue tarpaulin wreaked havoc on the country’s first dedicated military communications satellites during transportation to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Ouch.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Atomic hard disk could store every book ever written on postage stamp

Summer’s finally arrived in the UK, weather-wise, and with it a new use for chlorine other than to keep the nation’s outdoor swimming pools clean and clear. Forget taking your bestseller-packed Kindle to the pool or beach; nanoscientists at Delft University in the Netherlands reckon the technique they’ve developed using individual Cl atoms to store bits of data could eventually create a device capable of holding the entire library of human writing on a device the size of a stamp. (I’m assuming they mean standard issue ones and not limited edition ones that are twice the area – size differences like that matter a lot at this scale of technology.) As with all claims like this about data-storage density, the inevitable question is “Would you really want to?” It’s estimated we’re generating new data at a rate of more than a billion gigabytes a day, but not much of it deserves to be retained for posterity. And with so much writing starting life online now, what is a ‘book’? A lot of words that are never going to make it to the printed page have a far better case for making it onto that postage stamp than any number of physical works. It probably doesn’t matter though. By the time this embryonic technology has been developed into something marketable the idea of sitting reading words – whether on a screen or paper – could well be a thing of the past.

Book review: The Cambridge Phenomenon: Global impact – Kate Kirk and Charles Cotton

July 20, 2016

By Jade Fell

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Third Millennium Publishing, June 2016, 223 pp, ISBN 978-1908-990-617, £45.00, Hardback

“There’s a well-known saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ and in Cambridge, you could say ‘it takes a cluster to raise a company.’”

For nearly 40 years, a technological powerhouse has been growing in the English countryside. Nestled on the southern tip of East Anglia, Silicon Fen, also known as the Cambridge Cluster, may pale in popularity to its older, wiser sibling – Silicon Valley in California – but is of no less importance locally and indeed, globally. Widely acclaimed as a centre of excellence for knowledge and education, Cambridge is ranked as the No.1 University in the world, but its contribution to technological development is less known.

It is remarkable to consider just how many life-changing technologies originated in a small city in the heart of the English fenland. From the discovery of the DNA double helix by Watson and Crick – the findings were announced in the Eagle pub, Benet Street on a cold lunchtime in February 1953 – to the first Acorn computer, the beige and black, blocky creatures loved by school children of the 80s and 90s. At the heart of the cluster you find the university, a place that nourished revolutionary academics including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Lord Byron, whose fascination with the arts and science helped shape the romantic period. Still an academic centre of excellence, the university has transformed through the years into the advanced hub that it is today.

In their new book, The Cambridge Phenomenon: Global Impact, authors Kate Kirk and Charles Cotton attempt to highlight the influence that Cambridge has as a powerhouse for innovation and excellence – an influence that, according to the authors, has been largely underestimated. They argue that developments in Cambridge today and in the past have not only had a hugely positive impact on UK economy, but around the world in everything from computer chips to gene therapy.

Much of the technology we use is available thanks to Cambridge innovations, from the chips within a smart phone – the majority of which owe their existence to ARM – to anything equipped with Bluetooth technology. To date, some 4,300 knowledge intensive companies are located within a 20 mile radius of Cambridge, 15 of which are valued at over $1billion, two at over $10billion. 25 are the largest corporations in the world (such as Amazon, AstraZeneca and Microsoft) which have opened operations in the heart of the city.

In the forward to their first book, The Cambridge Phenomenon: 50 Years of Innovation and Enterprise, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote that the impact of Cambridge ‘reaches every corner of the globe’. In this year’s follow up publication, Kirk and Cotton advance on this point, highlighting the growth of the Cambridge cluster and the people and businesses behind this technological revolution. Cambridge is no longer just the birthplace of great technological advances, but a place to transfer knowledge and grow multinational business.

At the launch of the book, Kate Kirk commented in a similar vein that “the Cambridge phenomenon has reached a status of brain gain rather than brain drain. Instead of early-stage technology companies being bought up by overseas companies and taken away from Cambridge, we are now seeing multinational companies using acquisitions as a way of becoming part of the Cambridge ecosystem. These ‘sticky acquisitions’ are a major indication of Cambridge’s success.”

To this end, the book explores not just particular products and services that have emerged from Cambridge, but also the research institutes and technology sectors that are behind some of the city’s biggest successes. From life science and healthcare to inkjet printing, a wealth of technological innovation encourages competition and attracts talent to discover the potential of the Cambridge Cluster.

This book is important, not just in what it says, but in the work that it represents and the great minds that it credits. Much of the work within Cambridge gives birth to bigger and greater products and services. The effect that this small fenland city has in the wider world should not be underestimated.

#PokemonGO takes world by storm – an annotated infographic

July 18, 2016

As you may already be aware – unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks – Pokémon GO, the augmented reality game for smartphones, has taken the world by storm. It is the successor to Nintendo’s smash-hit Game Boy games from the 1990s, featuring many of the same beloved characters, such as Pikachu.

People have been propelled out of their houses and offices en masse to explore their local environs, eternally on the hunt for elusive Pokémon characters that must be captured and secured.  The appearance of an especially ‘rare’ character can cause intense excitement and fierce competition in players.

E&T news reported on China’s concerns that the game – which overlays real world locations with game graphics – could be used to locate the country’s secret military bases.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Pokemon GO: go!

Pokemon GO: go!

E&T news weekly #103 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the past week

July 15, 2016

Friday 15 July 2016

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Nuclear reactor construction falls to zero globally in 2016

It seems that nuclear power is out of fashion at the moment – perhaps partly because the Fukushima disaster dented people’s confidence in the technology, but also because nuclear plants are hugely expensive to build. On the other hand, governments around the world are committed to cutting carbon emissions, so while replacing existing fossil-fuel plants with more efficient ones may just about be acceptable, renewables are currently the only show in town when extra capacity is needed. That still leaves the question of finding the right technology for local circumstances, at sufficient scale, and making it affordable. There’s still a lot of work to do.

Carbon Trust scheme to slash cost of offshore wind power

This story highlights my previous point about choosing the right technology for the location. While countries nearer the Equator may invest heavily in solar power, Europe’s more northern coastal states are putting money into offshore wind. It’s still a relatively new technology – even inshore turbines were a research novelty when I joined E&T in its previous incarnation as IEE Review – and I recall a naval architect warning conference delegates never to underestimate the difficulties of construction in a maritime environment. That said, the industry has made huge progress, but there’s a long way to go to get generation costs down to the Carbon Trust’s target of £100/MWh.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
£4.12m space rocket test facility given the go-ahead

The interesting thing about the heavily engineering-based and peculiarly British strain of science-fiction that was popular in the 1950s was that it assumed the UK was going to be at the forefront of interplanetary exploration. From Bernard Quatermass and his British Experimental Rocket Group to the terrific 1959 radio series ‘Orbiter X’ that was rebroadcast for the first time by the BBC earlier this year, there was an expectation that UK scientists and engineers would be leading the race for space, even if it meant they’d be the first to experience any of the nasty consequences. The public didn’t know at the time, but there was plenty of effort going on at secret locations like the High Down site on the Isle of Wight (now run by the National Trust and well worth a visit if you’re there this summer) where projects with stirring names like ‘Black Arrow’ were being tested as part of the Cold War effort. Things didn’t turn out quite as those TV and radio shows expected, of course, but Britain still has a flourishing space industry and it’s one of the sectors on which government is pinning hopes of post-Brexit growth. Fittingly, the new National Space Propulsion Facility announced this week is going to be based at the same site in Buckinghamshire that was home to the top secret Rocket Propulsion Establishment set up in 1946 and is now a business park housing several space technology companies. Prospects for success are good, and maybe it’ll provide the inspiration for a new generation of sci-fi writers to pen stirring stories of British rocketeers.

IoT ‘smart desk’ ends office disputes over room temperature

Micromanagement isn’t usually considered a good thing. Arup has given it a new spin however with a sensor-fitted desk that lets workers in open-plan offices control the climate in their personal space. You only have to look around a typical workplace to see some people sitting in shirtsleeves while others a few feet away are wrapping in heavy cardigans – it’s one of those things that can cause massive disputes between colleagues who otherwise get on just fine. The bonus with the smart desk is that it also detects when no one’s sitting at it and turns off lights, monitors, heating and the rest.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
China takes on nature with weather engineering technology

“The Communist Party is in control of everything, even weather,” they used to say in the USSR. And rightly so. Everybody could see that the weather was always nice during the 7 November annual celebrations of the ‘great’ Bolshevik revolution (read coup d’etat) of 1917 (which, incidentally happened in October, not in November, but that is a different story), the Victory Day military parades and the 1 May enforced ‘demonstrations’. And of course, there was not a single cloud in the sky for the whole of three-week-long botched Moscow Olympics of 1980 (I was there and can confirm it). The rumour had it that on the eve of all those events, squadrons of light Soviet Army planes would disperse the clouds by spraying them with a cocktail of chemicals invented by heroic Soviet scientists in some top-secret laboratories. I never seriously believed in those rumours… But now, having read this story, I’m ready to admit that I was wrong. The Soviet Union must have had something similar to China’s Weather Modification Program, run by the Weather Modification Department of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences… Why not, when window dressing (or cloud dispersing, if you wish) was – and, it appears, still is – an obligatory feature of any Communist country, be it defunct, like the USSR, or alive and thriving, like modern Communist China? Why do they require window dressing on such a scale (to the point when the exemplary ‘Communist weather’ had been engineered and maintained through the duration of Beijing Olympics in 2008), when the nation seems to be prospering anyway and does not require constant reassurances of its own greatness, you may ask? Frankly, I have no idea, and the only plausible explanation I can find is in the popular English saying “old habits die hard”. They certainly do. And old Communist habits die hardest. I have little doubt therefore that ‘weather engineer’ is among modern China’s most prestigious occupations, even if they have so far failed to stop frequent flooding and no-less-frequent droughts costing the country thousands of human lives. Who cares about natural disasters as long as the Sky above the Tiananmen Square always stays cloudless and blue?

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Farnborough Airshow evacuated following heavy downpour

I don’t normally like to comment on my own stories, it feel a bit self-interested, but I have to make a comment on this story, purely for the fact that I was at Farnborough on the ill-fated opening day, and witnessed the events first hand. I’ve lived in the UK all my life, and I know we do love a good summer shower, but I would go so far as to say I have never seen rain like that which battered the Farnborough showground on Monday, it was quite literally Biblical. In fact, I saw a few other news organisations commenting on the storms, and asking people to be on the lookout for plagues of frogs and locusts. I slipped inside the Raytheon chalet for an interview at 1.30pm, leaving behind a suitable amount of sunshine for a July afternoon, and emerged outside an hour later to fast-flowing rivers were the roadways once were. I had an ankle-deep wade across the site to get to my next appointment, which was cancelled due to the power being cut. I know a lot of people were quite disgruntled by the fact that the show had to close early, “we missed out on valuable sales time” and all that jazz, but I don’t see how the organisers could have anticipated falling foul to the wrath of a fire-and-brimstone god.

IoT ‘smart desk’ ends office disputes over room temperature

Wave goodbye to your office-induced chilblains, there’s a new piece of equipment in town that is about to revolutionise your work environment. A fantastic team of engineers from Arup have developed a solution to disputes over room temperature, in the form of a ‘smart’ IoT desk which allows workers to control their very own microclimate. Truly a desk to rule them all. In my short working life I have never once been wholly satisfied by the temperature in any office I have worked in. It’s always too hot, too cold, or too comfortable. In my last job, I had a small heater hidden under my desk that I would use to toast my feet for 11 months and 3 weeks of the year, which would be swiftly replaced by a fan for the one week of British summer time. The setup worked quite well for me, but I can’t help but feel guilty when I think about all the electricity I must have consumed. This new desk presents a much more eco-friendly approach to the personal heater/fan scenario – that’s a double win if you ask me. The new sensor-fitted desk allows its users to create their own perfect working environment, in terms of temperature, and lighting, using software that takes control of central air-conditioning units and desk-fitted lighting.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Fingerprint recovery solution for plastic banknotes invented

So, the news here is that a team of British scientists has developed a technique for recovering fingerprints from plastic banknotes, such as those to be introduced by the Bank of England in September. This technique supposedly will help in investigations with fraud, stolen cash and similar crimes. With banknotes becoming more and more elaborately designed to prevent fraud, does this mean cash will be more or less popular than digital means of payment that we have today? And how effective will the technology be on a banknote that’s been in many a cash register, crumpled behind a sofa or put through the wash? I still think people prefer the novelty of contactless payment. After all, you spend money without the emotional parting of a £20 note, and you can pretend you haven’t spent anything at all. The technology on these banknotes seems promising, but whether it will withstand public handling is another matter.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Co-bots collaborate with humans on Ford Fiesta assembly line

I like this story as much for the cheery robot gesture in the accompanying image, which made me involuntarily smile, as I do for the news that industrial robots at Ford’s Cologne plant are working directly alongside their human counterparts. It’s a real partnership, man and machine, the one assisting the other, with each playing to their respective strengths in dividing up the work involved. This is the future for robots in the workplace. Far from taking away human jobs completely, robots are more likely to be used to alleviate the stress and strain that heavy lifting jobs – such as automotive assembly – can place on human beings. Thumbs up to that.

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FAST telescope to hunt for extraterrestrial life – an annotated infographic

July 8, 2016

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope – aka FAST – is the world’s largest radio telescope.

Hewn out of a mountain in China at a cost of $180 million, it will explore space and hunt for extraterrestrial life.

E&T news reported the story about China’s hunt for alien life in full detail earlier this week.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

FAST forward

FAST forward

E&T news weekly #102 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the past week

July 8, 2016

Friday 8 July 2016

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Robotic rectum to boost prostate cancer diagnosis

It would be easy to take a mickey out of this new invention, but on this occasion I am not going to do it. Moreover, I would be willing to characterise the robotic rectum – without a shadow of irony – as a major scientific breakthrough. The reason? Prostate cancer is a bane of modern human males. Natural shyness and sheer intrusiveness of the examination procedure have stopped thousands of men from seeking help until it was too late. Anything that facilitates prostate cancer diagnostic procedure and therefore makes the deadly and treacherous disease, with symptoms getting obvious only at its final stages, more identifiable and hence more treatable, should be extremely welcome. Another positive side effect of this invention is the fact that the person with (perhaps) the UK’s rarest profession – rectal teaching assistant – is likely to be made redundant at last. I don’t think he will regret his resignation too much.

Parking robot replaces valets to move cars into tight spaces

Continuing the theme of robots in “tight spaces” (sorry, could not refrain from this quip, but promise: there will be no more). It’s all very well to have a robot lifting your (empty) car and squeezing it between two other cars (or between a car and a car-park pole) – in fact, I was able to observe that very kind of parking more than once in the streets of Rome, with no robots involved. The question is who is going to un-park your vehicle? The news story stays mum about it which led me to assume that it won’t be the same robot, programmed for the parking function only. So getting out of the tight parking slot will probably be up to the driver. Only to un-park the car, he or she has somehow to get inside it first – and that should be difficult, if not impossible, due to the very tightness of the allocated space. Does this mean that your car will have to stay in that very coveted parking slot forever? Can you imagine what kind of parking charges that would involve? Well, I hope I’m getting it all wrong here, and, although it is not mentioned, the same hard-working robot that parked the car will somehow drag it out back into the open. Forgive me if that is the case. But I also know that the desire to find parking in a busy city is sometimes so strong that one would not even think of the consequences. I know for certain that some people (myself included) would do anything to get rid of their vehicle here and now, even if they are not going to drive it ever again.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Solar power use hits record high in UK

Despite all the efforts by the UK government to keep renewables down and prop up our desperately failing, landscape ravaging but politically lucrative fossil-fuel industries, solar power use is actually regularly hitting record highs. It’s almost as if regular folk have realised that despite what politicians tell them they want, they’ve actually worked out for themselves that all that free sunshine isn’t going to run out any time soon, that it is environmentally clean, perpetually renewable and no one company can claim to own it and build a dirty, destructive business model around it. Whatever is Big Oil going to do about that?

Parking robot replaces valets to move cars into tight spaces

This is an idea so simple and so effective it’s surprising that no one came up with it before. ‘Geta’ (get a car) is a laser-guided robot that can slide under a vehicle, pick it up, find a free parking space in the tightest of spots and place the car perfectly within it. Essentially, it’s like a reverse car-impound service, in as much as this robot finds your car the best available space and moves it there for you, rather than finding your car in a good spot, penalising you for parking Against The Rules and confiscating your vehicle. I’m sure in time ‘Geta’ will be deployed by both sides of the Parking Wars that threaten to choke our city streets, so expect future iterations of Geta to come equipped with missiles in order to destroy other Getas in the battle to claim more vehicles for their own side.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Parking robot replaces valets to move cars into tight spaces

I’m the kind of driver who would rather walk a bit further than struggle to get into a tight parking spot, especially if there are other people around to watch how many iterations it takes. I definitely like the sound of a robot that would do the job for me – but I suspect that at £115,000 a time, there won’t be many local authorities or supermarkets rushing to buy one.

Fatal Tesla Autopilot crash setback for autonomous driving

This is thought to be the first fatal accident involving an autonomous car, and it just goes to show how hard it is to think of everything that could possibly go wrong. As reported, the car ploughed into the side of a tractor trailer that was turning in front of it (what we call an artic in UK English) because neither the Tesla’s systems nor the human driver picked out the white trailer unit against a bright sky. On the other hand, it’s surprising to me as a British reader that the Tesla was able to pass underneath the trailer. The mandatory safety shields lorries have here owe a lot to the foolish imitators of a famous TV stunt and have nothing whatever to do with self-driving cars. Maybe US regulators should do a web search for ‘Frank Spencer rollerskating’.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Engineers unite to push for decent EU deal

Why UK engineering has to be fractured into so many different organisations is a perennial question levelled at the profession’s leaders, and a phenomenon that’s often blamed for the lack of influence many engineers believe it exerts. Nice to see then that the IET’s among 35 bodies who have joined up to create a policy group they hope will help the government negotiate an exit from the EU that does as little damage as possible to the country’s industry and economy. Many of the participants supported the Remain option ahead of the 23 June referendum, so it’s reassuring that they’re now uniting to try and influence the direction Brexit takes from and informed position. Together, they represent more than 450,000 people who work in a sector that’s responsible for more than half of UK exports. When the letter they’ve written offering their support lands on the desk of Oliver Letwin MP, who’s currently heading the transition planning team, let’s hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Drones and renewables on the agenda for new A-level

Doing the rounds of university open days with one of my children who’s contemplating an engineering degree, it’s interesting to see how often drones come up as an example of the extent to which today’s graduates will need cross-disciplinary experience that takes in more than just the established elements of electronics, mechanics, computing etc. The idea of putting a camera in a speedy remote control drone then coupling it to a virtual reality system for real-time racing involves serious technology, but is just the sort of thing that gets young people excited about what a career in engineering might involve. Some will probably be sceptical about this new A-level’s focus on issues like climate change and DNA testing, seeing it as a crude attempt to attract students who aren’t good enough for traditional course. There’s plenty of research, though, that shows these are exactly the topics that can persuade more young women to consider engineering as a career, so let’s at least give it a chance.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Brexit: UK research and innovation sectors wary of impact

Brexit is likely to hit the UK’s universities hard on three fronts: students, staffing and research. Tereza Pultarova has followed up her pre-referendum research with an analysis of how things are shaping up for universities and there is already evidence they are losing out, especially in research. It’s not just about the money either – access to collaborative programmes and research facilities will suffer. It will be in our next issue but you can read her article online now.

Engineers unite to push for decent EU deal

One effect of Brexit has been to bring together the UK’s engineering organisations. It has formed a policy group of several dozen institutions representing 450,000 engineers in an effort to steer government policy in a better direction for engineering and as it negotiates the UK’s divorce form EU over the next few years.

Engineering students reject hard hat as symbol of their industry

Engineers wearing hard hits are on the rise, according to those who monitor UK engineering media for pictures that give the wrong image to the engineering profession. E&T has always avoided hard hats and spanners as symbols of engineering because we know they sometimes offend. However, some types of engineers do wear them in their work. Several recent recipients of the Young Woman Engineer of the Year award released PR shots of themselves in hard hats, for example. And civil engineering is full of engineers – and indeed CEOs and MDs – doing site visits where they have to wear them. It would be absurd and dishonest to avoid them completely. But we do certainly avoid hard hats on ‘generic’ unnamed engineers. Except for this one…

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
London Mayor Sadiq Khan calls for greater air pollution controls

Sadiq Khan’s recent announcement regarding new measures to tackle London’s air pollution shows a promising start for the new mayor but also prompts one to ask why such measures weren’t put in place previously. In his first two months in the post, Khan has already set out proposals to charge the most polluting vehicles £10 a day in the centre of the city from 2017 and extend the planned ‘ultra-low emissions zone’. He’s also seriously looking into pedestrianising Oxford Street, a natural continuation of Ken Livingstone’s similar efforts in Trafalgar Square, and is set to introduce a new bus fare system to make it cheaper for Londoners to use public transport. But how do these proposals reflect on Boris Johnson’s eight year tenure as the London Mayor? In that time, he managed to get stuck on a zipline, announce a few pie-in-the-sky ideas that will never get built, and generally splurge his bumbling ‘everyman’ persona all over the UK media in his (now failed) attempt to rise through the political ranks. In stark contrast to Khan, one of Johnson’s first acts as mayor was to actually scrap the western extension of the congestion charge. But what about Boris Bikes? Their implementation has been shakey and at a cost far greater than was initially envisaged, but they are finally here and genuinely improve London’s heavily congested transport networks and potentially discourage car usage. Well, these can’t be attributed to the blond buffoon either, since it was a project introduced by Ken in his final years that was well underway before Boris was voted in. Ken Bikes would be a more appropriate name, even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. So what did he actually do? Admittedly some of the most lethal areas of London for cycling have been improved, with roadworks taking place across Elephant and Castle and Vauxhall to create segregated lanes. But other than this, there really isn’t a lot. He used the mayoral post to boost his own personal profile while wilfully ignoring some of London’s most pressing issues. Hopefully Khan will take the role more seriously and continue to introduce tangible measures that will undo eight years of stagnation under Boris.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Mars-inspired robots to search for oil on Earth

While we’re bugging about whether a stone on Mars that kind of looks like a head is a sculpture of some sort (it’s not, it’s a lump of rock), the tech used for the ExoMars rover is being utilised back here on Earth to help oil extraction. Where they’re going nowadays to collect oil is pretty much inhospitable, so the red planet tech would be perfect. There’s plenty of oil underground, so why not drill into our planet where we shouldn’t really go in the first place, get really invasive and nab some ancient plankton and plant juice? Because that’s what us humans do, of course. Duh!

#Brexit repercussions ripple across Europe – EU power struggle builds – an annotated infographic

July 6, 2016

The Brexit reverberations continue. As if things haven’t been made complicated enough in Great Britain by the result of the referendum, now the remaining EU nations find themselves sliding in to an ideological power struggle that could easily culminate in the implosion of the concept of the EU as a unified group of countries.

The battle for Europe’s future pits Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Parliament President Martin Schulz — both of whom want deeper European integration — against EU heads of state, led by Angela Merkel, who want to repatriate rights from Brussels.

E&T has been following the Brexit impact on the science and engineering communities.

E&T also reported on how a working group of the key UK engineering organisations has been formed to lobby government for the most favourable EU deal.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Talking heads

Talking heads

 

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#Mosquito repelling TV launched by LG in India – an annotated infographic

July 5, 2016

The Indian division of South Korea’s LG Electronics has developed a TV it claims can repel mosquitoes, which spread diseases such as malaria, Zika and dengue.

E&T news covered this mosquito-repelling TV announcement in detail last month. The TV’s ‘Mosquito Away Technology’ uses ultrasonic waves that are inaudible to humans, but cause mosquitoes to fly away, according to the company. Quite where the mosquitos fly away to is not known – presumably to one’s next-door neighbours, who don’t have an LG television.

Technology is increasingly being deployed in pioneering ways in the global fight against the spread of dangerous diseases. Mobile phones have been used to help fight outbreaks of both malaria and dengue fever.

It is also hoped that technology can arrest the spread of the Zika virus, as Dr Nicola Davies reported in E&T magazine earlier this year.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Buzz off, I'm watching telly

Buzz off, I’m watching telly

F-35 Lightning II fighter jet to debut @FIAFarnborough – an annotated infographic – #FIA16

July 5, 2016

The world’s most advanced fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II, is making its first appearance at the Farnborough airshow in the UK in July.

Three F-35B jump jet aircraft are due to perform in the skies over the week-long event.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Lightning strikes: F-35 flies in to Farnborough

Lightning strikes: F-35 flies in to Farnborough

IET events this July – #engineering and #technology dates for your diary

July 4, 2016

JulyThis month many IET events appear to have a focus on furthering skills, with courses and workshops taking place across the UK as well as online.

Interested members can sign up for courses on TRIZ and MBSE or attend Lifeskills workshops on topics such as management and communication.

With summer upon us it’s also a great time to get out and about and so many of the IET’s Local Networks have been arranging special technical visits. In the Hong Kong region especially, members are spoilt for choice with several technical visits happening throughout the month.

July also offers the opportunity to come along to IET London: Savoy Place for a tour of the new and improved building, and for those that follow the renowned Present Around The World competition, the EMEA region final takes place towards the end of the month in Barcelona.

Below are a few of our highlights for the month, but also be sure to check out the full IET events listings to find out about everything taking place near you.

 

05 July, Introduction to TRIZ, Birmingham, course

06 July, RNLI Shannon Class Lifeboat building, Poole, technical visit

06-07 July, Mastering requirements using MBSE, London, course

06-07 July, Essentials of management, Manchester, course

09 July, Guangdong Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station, Guangdong, technical visit

12 July, CLP Smart Grid Experience Centre, Kowloon, technical visit

16 July, IET London: Savoy Place Tour, London, visit

22 July, Webinar – Communicating for success, online, course

23 July, EMEA Present Around The World regional final, Barcelona, competition

27 July, Continuing professional development, Manchester, workshop

29 July, Coding the Future, London, workshop

 

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